Gluten in medicines

Some medicines may contain gluten – a protein found naturally in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and oats. This may be of concern if you are diagnosed with coeliac disease and have to avoid gluten.

Medicines are made up of many ingredients. The part of the medicine that makes it work, known as the active ingredient, is generally gluten-free. However, inactive ingredients or 'excipients' that are added to help bind pills together or as diluents or fillers many contain starch. In most cases, the starch used in medicines is from corn, but it may be from wheat. Starch from wheat may contain gluten, which is a problem for people with coeliac disease. If you do not have coeliac disease, then gluten is unlikely to affect you. 

In New Zealand, there are no requirements for sources of gluten to be listed on the medicine label. However, the datasheet may have this information on the list of excipients. The best way to find out if the medicine you are taking contains gluten, is to ask your pharmacist. They can check the datasheet or phone the drug company.   

Vitamins and other complementary medicines: gluten may also be present in vitamins and other complementary medicines that you can buy from pharmacies, supermarkets, health shops or over the internet.

If the brand of your medicine changes: if the brand of your medicine changes, the new brand may have different excipients. If you have to avoid gluten, you should ask your pharmacist if the new brand of medicine has gluten. Read more about brand changes.

References

  1. Allergies and medicines Therapeutic Good Administration, Australia
  2. Medicines and gluten Food and Drug Administration, USA
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 21 Sep 2019